Read James 3
Focus on verse 7-8
An old friend of mine worked in an IT department where his job also periodically included computer repair. He made a statement to me in regard to repairing computers, that he meant as a joke, but it has stuck with me over the years as an illustration that fits more than a few situations. He said the most difficult part about fixing computers was getting the smoke back in. In other words, once a component burns out (occasionally producing a small puff of smoke) it cannot be undone. There is no “undo button” for this type of event.
Few of us if any, can lay claim to having never said anything we regret. The only exception might be a person who is unable to speak at all. Our words are a little like that little puff of smoke that comes out of a computer as it burns out…once it comes out – it is impossible to put it back in. We might be able to take the computer apart and replace the component, and with some time and money spent the computer may work again, but it will never be the same as it was prior to that event.
In today’s reading James cautions us regarding the words we speak, reminding us that our tongue is capable of doing great harm, that cannot be undone. Like a small spark that starts a raging forest fire, all it takes is a few words at just the wrong moment to initiate a series of events that can leave a trail of carnage behind that forever changes the landscape of our lives, and like the smoke that escapes a failing computer, it can’t be undone.
For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. (v. 7-8)
Obviously, the writer is speaking figuratively here, in that technically the tongue simply converts the thoughts and intentions of our mind and heart into words. In this sense then the words we speak simply reveal that which is in our mind at the time. Our minds are also affected strongly by our emotions, which are not a reliable indicator of our character. Emotions simply reveal what we happen to be feeling at the moment. It is when we allow these emotions to dictate our actions that we most often get ourselves into trouble with our tongue.
Some of the most reliable advise I have heard in this regard is found in an old animated Disney film called “Bambi” in which Thumper the rabbit’s mother cautions Thumper that “if you can’t say something nice, it’s better to say nothin’ at all.” That advise can also be found in the Bible where we are encouraged to speak the truth in love. Quite often the most hurtful things we say are truthful, but they spoken in anger with the intent to harm rather than in love with the intent of helping the one to whom or about whom we speak.
I suspect that if we filtered everything we say through a filter of “will this help or hurt the one to whom or about whom I speak”, that we would not only choose our words more carefully, but some of us might also have a whole lot less to say.